The NFL has a massive decision to make, and it needs to make it soon. Thus far, while other leagues have been forced to either suspend or outright cancel their seasons and/or events, the NFL has rolled along with a mostly business-as-usual attitude -- save for the cancellation of the annual meeting in Florida and the ban on free agent and draft prospect visits. The changes they've made due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic haven't yet shaken the ground beneath the league, but a recent report suggests that is about to change, starting with the 2020 NFL Draft.
The event is set to be held from April 23-25 in Las Vegas, but with the city having essentially closed down due to coronavirus and mandates having been issued to temporarily ban gatherings of more than 50 people -- a mandate issued by the Center for Disease Control -- the NFL canceled public fan events, but not the draft itself. It appears it will still go on as scheduled, but instead will be conducted from inside of a television studio of some sort, per Sam Farmer of the LA Times, and not in Vegas at all. The location of the studio is yet unknown.
The NFL has made no public announcement regarding additional changes to the draft at the time this article goes to file, but commissioner Roger Goodell did issue the following memo to league employees in mid-March:
"Planning for the Draft is a good example of how we need to think differently, embrace technology and collaborate. We will also use the Draft to help support fans and those people impacted in our communities. While there have been changes to the way we work and some of our plans, we have an unwavering commitment to upholding the NFL's legacy of unifying and lifting the spirit of America, and bringing out the best in our fans and in our communities around the world. You'll hear more from us in the days and weeks ahead about how we intend to demonstrate that commitment well beyond our fields.
"And I hope you'll share your ideas on how we can do that."
Should the league prove the report accurate, the broadcast will reportedly also include cut-aways to each team's war room/draft headquarters as the process rolls along. This would be a nostalgic setup that harkens back decades to when there wasn't much pomp and circumstance surrounding the event -- when it was all put together in stark contrast to prospects being prepped in 2020 for boat transport to a stage in Las Vegas with thousands of fans jeering or cheering.
With teams themselves having banned travel for their respective personnel ahead of the draft, it's unlikely all 32 would be willing to lift the ban and risk exposure to COVID-19, putting the NFL's back against the wall in much the way it's done virtually every other sports league in the world. And if professional football needs a reminder it's not somehow immune to it all, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton testing positive for coronavirus serves as a just that.
Putting lives in danger for the draft simply isn't worth it, and likely why the NFL -- although having not yet said it -- will adopt the old-school format in 2020.